Monday, January 16, 2012

UP Yatra with Neelesh Misra: Story 2

“We had heard there was a lady called Mayawati”

Neelesh Misra


There is a good chance you’ll miss the man.

Under the long tin roofs at the messy Azamgarh courthouse, lost in the pitter-patter of typewriters, crowds of rural petitioners and the rows of cynical notaries, there is a small black sign on the yellow wall: “Ram Krishna Yadav, Advocate (Ex-MP)”.

Here under this sign, a 75-year-old man sits wrapped in a woollen jacket and muffler, on a tottering old wooden chair, at a shaky table. Some 650 kilometres to the southwest in Bhopal, his first cousin Ram Naresh Yadav lives in the opulent Rajya Bhavan; he is the governor of Madhya Pradesh.

Ram Krishna Yadav handles criminal cases in this eastern Uttar Pradesh rural expanse, standing in court to argue cases related to small land disputes, clashes and dowry charges. There was a time when he used to similarly stand in Parliament to argue on matters on national importance. In 1989, Yadav became one of the three first-ever MPs of the then-fledgling Bahujan Samaj Party, which made its mark even in the pro-Janata Dal wave.

Yadav won from the Azamgarh constituency, after a short quick-fire campaign across the countryside in just one jeep, compared to the well-resourced campaigns of his rivals.

Apart from him, there were two newcomers: Harbhajan Lakha from Phillaur (Punjab), and a rising star in the party called Mayawati from Bijnaur (Uttar Pradesh), later also Yadav’s next-door neighbour at the apartment complex for lawmakers at new Delhi’s North Avenue.

“We had started hearing that there is a lady called Mayawati who was gaining prominence with Kanshi Ram ji – but that was the first time I met her, after we got elected to Parliament,” said Yadav.

They did not hit it off.

“Since that time, she seemed like a very ambitious woman. She said she was a teacher, but she had dreams beyond her capabilities, I used to think,” said Yadav, one of the founding members of the BSP, sitting at the Azamgarh courthouse with fellow lawyers.

The success of Kanshi Ram’s BSP, founded in April 1984, was a significant political ripple at a time when upper and intermediary Hindu castes dominated politics. It won more than 1 million votes right away -- in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, leading to the first parliamentary success in 1989.

Yadav’s political career began when he was invited to Kanshi Ram’s closed-door dinners with Azamgarh’s political activists, where they discussed strategies to create a niche in the already crowded political space.

Yadav soon gave up his successful legal practice to join politics.

“I had nothing. I was a middle-class criminal lawyer. I have never had even a car in my life, I still don’t,” Yadav said. His former colleague Mayawati’s declared assets are worth Rs. 87 crores.

Kanshi Ram started inviting Yadav to share the stage with him and speak at every other public rally.

“I agreed with him that power of all sorts – whether political or financial, or intellectual -- vested in a few hands and it was time to change that,” Yadav said. “I was hugely impressed with Kanshi Ram ji.”

The mercurial Kanshi Ram headed a new shift in political thinking. He was ready to align with any political rival, saying he would do it as long as it served the interests of his key constituency, the Dalits.

Parliament was dissolved in 1991 after the fall of the Chandra Shekhar government. Yadav and the other BSP lawmakers lost that year in the Congress wave after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

In the 1996 elections, a quirk of circumstances saw Yadav being pitted against and losing to his own cousin, former state Chief Minister Ram Naresh Yadav.

“After that, I was left with savings of just over Rs 10,000 then. But I was content,” Yadav said.

The BSP, though, had arrived. In 1996, it was granted the status of a national party.

“But Kanshi Ram’s influence had begin to wane by now. The old guard was being sidelined. Mayawati was gaining control,” Yadav said. In 1998, he quit the BSP.

“The themes and policies for which we had joined the BSP and worked for it -- a socialistic outlook, working for the dispossessed – had vanished from the party,” said Yadav.

“The party’s mission was to go after the three M’s – money, media and mafia. Now all is lost.”

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(All photos by the author, except when credit mentioned otherwise)